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Dr. Rolland “Woody” Hurst
“Well, hello there!” Woody would greet people in his deep, rich bass-baritone voice. Since we know God has a sense of humor, one wonders if perhaps when he was welcomed to heaven on January 16, 2023, Jesus exclaimed, “Well, hello there!” just to see his reaction?!
Woody was born to Alfred and Ruth Hurst on August 24, 1932, in Burlington, NC. He and his older brother Jim spent their childhood in Chattanooga, TN. His father was a pastor from a long line of circuit riders and preachers in the South, and his mother, a skilled musician and loving homemaker. His first school, Missionary Ridge Elementary, was on a hill, so daily hikes gave him time to talk to God and develop a strong dependence on Him, not to mention, healthy lungs! It’s no wonder Woody could sustain a note for miles! He learned to play piano, violin, and trombone, and guitar. From an early age, music was woven into his soul.
A devoted student, Woody attended Alice Deal Junior High School and Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C. and was active in sports, music, and ministry. He was elected to the National Honor Society and graduated Salutatorian. He dedicated his life to full-time Christian service and planned to become an engineer and missionary to China.
However, God had other plans for the direction that would take. At Grinnell College in Iowa, he studied pre-engineering physics. There he met Patty Keagy, the beautiful, gifted woman who persuaded him to join the band which needed a trombonist. (She would later become his wife and the mother of their four children.) He switched his major and graduated with Honors in Music Education and Performance. He went on to get his Master of Music in Voice and Opera at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where daughter Jeanne was born. He and his family moved to Long Island, NY, and God blessed them with daughter Linda. Not long after found them in Rutherford, NJ, where daughter Becky and son Allen were added. He was a great storyteller, and his children have wonderful memories of his off-the-cuff bedtime stories, especially “Mr. Tears”!
Most notable were the ten years he spent in NYC pursuing his passion for music and theater as a highly acclaimed professional singer/actor. He landed roles on Broadway in Unsinkable Molly Brown with Tammy Grimes and Harve Presnell (1960-1962), We Take the Town (1962), and Hello Dolly with both Carol Channing and Ginger Rogers (1964-1970). He was also bass soloist in live performances, recordings, and tours (around South America) with the world-famous Robert Shaw Chorale, New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall World Premiere of “Joseph and His Brothers” (title role of Joseph), American Opera Society, Long Island Opera Company, Turnau Opera Company, and others. In addition, he had leading roles in Off-Broadway and summer stock productions. His film credits included Voice of Firestone, Lamp Unto My Feet, Telephone Hour, Hallmark Hall of Fame “Cry of Angels,” NBC Opera Company, and movies The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster and The Star with Julie Andrews.
Instead of asking, “What did Woody do for a living?” one should ask, “What didn’t he do?!” Recently, he remarked, “In a lifetime of over 90 years, you have many unusual experiences—at least one or two unusual experiences!” He had jobs too numerous to mention between the bookends of Broadway and obtaining his Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) at Columbia University. Relocating to Fresno, CA, he became Professor Emeritus of Music at California State University and directed the Opera Workshop, Concert Choir, Pop Singers, and Jazz Singers. He taught voice, guitar, and piano, directed church choirs and other productions, and performed with Fresno Opera Association and Fresno Community Theater (South Pacific and The Most Happy Fella), earning the “Outstanding Performance Award.”
Unfortunately, Woody’s first marriage failed, but God is a God of second chances, and he was blessed with a second marriage to Shirley Davis, a beautiful, talented pianist and organist with two children, son Max and daughter Jan. Shirley went with him to Scotland, where he sang as listeners were stunned at the seven-second echo in the Edinburgh Cathedral. They also enjoyed living among the Amish in PA, where he taught music at Millersville University. After a year there, they returned to Fresno until they retired near family in Hayden, ID.
Up until months before moved to his heavenly home, Woody kept his quick wit and “gumption,” staying active in family, church, and community events. He was soloist with the Spokane Symphony Chorale and Chorale CDA, trombonist with the Panhandle Symphony Orchestra, and leading actor in Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City Playhouse productions of Guys and Dolls, Bye, Bye, Birdie, and Arsenic and Old Lace, just to name a few. His last role was that of Jacob in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat in 2019.
Among Woody’s finest legacies are his abundant compositions, from sacred to silly children’s songs. In his own words, “Music is in my blood." He claimed God gave him the songs and cantatas, sometimes written in personal notes and cards, and they are treasured reflections of his life and love for the Lord. Among them was The Liberty Dance of Henry Sparrow, which won first place in the American College Theater Festival and was presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In his final weeks, Woody reflected, “This life is just a prelude to many infinite years.” It became more urgent to focus his prayers on everyone he knew that they would know Jesus—particularly those at the skilled nursing facility who took such good care of him. He sang his whole life, and even near the end of it, his caregivers loved hearing him break out in song from his bed, praising God! That will not be forgotten. Woody’s life made a difference, and he was deeply loved by so many.
Woody often quipped after a family meal, “I’ve had my sufficiency.” Concerning his life on Earth, Jesus and the angels may have declared, “We think you’ve had your sufficiency. Now it’s time to really start living. Welcome home!” One can imagine him replying as he typically did, “Sounds like a plan!”
Woody was preceded in crossing over by his father, mother, brother, sister-in-law Nan, as well as both his first and second wife. He is survived by his children and their spouses, grandchildren and their spouses, great grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and all those who were “adopted” into his family.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)
Graveside service: February 18, 2023, at 2:00 p.m., Coeur d’Alene Memorial Gardens, 7315 N. Government Way, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83815. A memorial celebration of his life will be June 17, 2023, at 3:00 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 521 E Lakeside Ave, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814.
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